Margaret Keane, artist with “big eyes”, dies at the age of 94 | Art

Margaret Keane, the artist known for her “big-eyed” paintings, has died aged 94.

Keane was embroiled in a legal battle over the rights to her work after her husband claimed credit for it, a story told by Tim Burton in the 2014 film Big Eyes. His daughter Jane Swigert confirmed her death at her home in Napa , California, due to heart failure.

Born Peggy Doris Hawkins, she studied design in New York before finding work painting cribs in the 1950s. She quickly moved on to her own art before meeting Walter Keane in 1955. He discovered her trademark paintings , sad-looking, saucer-eyed children, and began selling them to comedy clubs, taking credit for themselves.

After convincing her it was a more realistic solution, she accepted the deception, telling the Guardian in 2014 that it “heartbroken” her. By the 1960s, paintings were ubiquitous, with stars such as Dean Martin and Joan Crawford purchasing the originals. Andy Warhol said at the time: “I think what Keane has done is just great. That must be good. If it was bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.

But art critics were unimpressed, and in 1964 at the World’s Fair a large-scale painting titled Tomorrow Forever was called a “tasteless work of hacking” in The New York Times before being quickly swept away. withdrawn. “When people said it was just sentimental stuff, it really hurt me,” she said. “Some people couldn’t even bear to look at them. I don’t know why – just a violent reaction.

Amy Adams in Big Eyes
Amy Adams in the big eyes. Photography: The Weinstein Company/Allstar

The couple divorced soon after and in 1970 she announced that she was the real entertainer. In 1986, she sued Walter Keane and USA Today for claiming he was the one behind the paintings. She won the case after a “paint” in court, but never received her $4 million in damages because Walter Keane was bankrupt.

Her story was later made into the 2014 film Big Eyes, starring Amy Adams, which led to a brief resurgence in popularity for her work. She called watching the film a “traumatic” experience.

The film’s co-writer Larry Karaszewski paid tribute to him on Facebook. “Grateful that we all spent so much time getting to know her beautiful spirit,” he wrote. “It took a decade to bring Big Eyes to the screen. But her story of surviving abuse was important. She wanted the world to know the truth about her life and art.

In 2018, the Los Angeles Art Show presented him with a lifetime achievement award during a retrospective of his work. She called it a “true blessing”.

His death was announced on his official Facebook page today. “We are saddened to announce that Margaret Keane, ‘The Mother of Big Eyes, Our Queen, a Modern Master and a Legend’ passed away peacefully Sunday morning at her home in Napa, Calif., she was 94 years old.”

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